Soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is talking with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) about a new leadership position. It would make Warren a liaison with liberal groups and ostensibly make her a bigger voice during the Democratic Party's messaging and policy brainstorm sessions. As Paul Kane notes, "Expanding the leadership table -- Warren's position was created specifically for her -- is a way to answer the critics who think that Reid's team became insulated in recent years, according to senior Democratic aides."
Elizabeth Warren also happens to be exceptionally popular with the Democratic Party base, unlike many of her colleagues. Hmm, this is starting to make sense.
It wouldn't be the first time party leadership has seen the utility of conjuring a leadership position from thin air in order to serve as a bit of political WD-40. It has been a favorite tool in the House in recent years.
In 2011, Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) were both hoping to be whip after Democrats got demoted to the minority, but Clyburn wasn't going to get the votes. So, realizing it would be useful -- and look good -- to have someone with support among liberals and the Congressional Black Caucus in a leadership position, Pelosi offered him the No. 3 position of assistant Democratic leader. Months later, the specifics of what his title meant still seemed confusing.
When Pelosi first became minority leader in 2002, she appointed Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.) to the "newly created post of assistant minority leader." She was seen as a liberal Democrat, so reaching out to a moderate Southern Democrat seemed prudent. As Spratt said at the time, "By turning to me, Nancy Pelosi is showing her inclusiveness and her commitment to working with the entire Democratic caucus."
Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), whom Pelosi replaced in 2002, loved the "assistant" option of healing fraying parts of the party. In 1999, he nominated Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) to be assistant to the minority leader. At the time, it was becoming increasingly noticeable that Democrats had only men in leadership positions. That newly created position made DeLauro the only elected woman in the entire party's national leadership.
When Gephardt was first elected to House leadership in 1989, there were also talks about potentially giving a new leadership position to one of the endangered Southern Democrats who weren't quite used to not being in positions of power.
And sometimes, leadership positions are created to keep potential rivals at bay. When Rep. Dick Armey (R-Tex.) was trying to get reelected as House majority leader in 1998, he had two people running against him. The one with the best chance of replacing Armey -- Rep. Steve Largent (R-Okla.) -- tried to encourage Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R-Wash.) to drop out by offering to make her assistant majority leader. It didn't work, and Armey won.
When Republican Sen. Jim Jeffords (Vt.) was planning to switch his party affiliation in 2001, moderate members of his party suggested that he could have a new leadership position if he stayed. He declined and became an independent who caucused with Democrats, giving them control of the Senate.
Leadership positions can also take advantage of useful connections. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) -- who had worked in the White House during the George H.W. Bush administration -- was given a new liaison position to serve as a connection between the George W. Bush administration and Congress while he was in the House of Representatives.
As the two political parties change and expand to include more -- or at least different -- factions, new leadership positions have become a useful way to make as many people happy as possible, at least for awhile.
And while there has certainly been a bit of title inflation in Congress, they can take comfort in the fact that they will likely never keep up with the endless list of assistants to the president over at the White House.